Ave et Salve: Narrative Design in Dark Souls


Ave et…holy crap that’s a lightning bolt!

Ave et salve–hello and farewell–was a Roman greeting when two travelers passed each other on a road, perhaps heading from one corner of the extensive  empire to the other. The greeting conveyed both a sense of genuine comfort in seeing another soul, and also the reality that the vastness of the empire meant that the two would likely not meet again. The video game Dark Souls is so vast that you’ll likely never meet the same player twice.

With the upcoming release of Dark Souls II, I thought I’d revisit why the original Dark Souls singly reinvigorated the action-rpg genre, and made me believe in video games again–strong statement alert! Like many people, I grew up playing the Zelda series. The original NES Legend of Zelda through the SNES A Link To the Past allowed players to explore without being burdened by excessive dialogue. Yet there was narrative to be found everywhere—with the exception that most of this narrative was created by the player.


this is definitely not Zelda

But as the series continued, traditional cut scenes and dialogue came to replace the more passive narrative of its predecessors—until the recent long-awaited sequel Link Between Worlds, Zelda had become overburdened with unnecessary tutorials, constant narrators, and generally “told” the story rather than “showed the story,” to use a common fictional wisdom.

For those who haven’t played Dark Souls, its premise is still standard fantasy. Imagine middle earth had Sauron taken over, and his darkness spread to the four corners of the map. But the world of Dark Souls is desolate, dreary, and largely abandoned, a fact you’re reminded of not by characters constantly griping about evil but in the gameplay itself.


Perspective is everything, isn’t it?

Save points take the form of bonfires, which when approached are little more than kindling and need to be lit. Lighting a bonfire saves your progress, but not your souls (the currency for purchasing items, and upgrading both equipment and your stats). But the catch is the thing—resting at a bonfire heals you, but also revives most common enemies (with the exception of bosses and a few special foes).  You feel both excitement upon reaching a bonfire (because Dark Souls is a retro-difficult game), and dread—a well-trodden path hardly exists, and even at later stages of the game early enemies still pose a threat.

Designed by Lady Gaga...

Designed by Lady Gaga…

The story of Dark Souls would be nothing unique–if not for the bonfire mechanic, which constantly reinforce the idea that the flame of humanity has all but been extinguished. Still, perhaps Dark Souls would be an isolating experience if not for its brilliant online mechanic. Throughout your game, the hollowed ghosts of other players enter and leave your world . Glow red tags mark player messages that warn you of difficult monsters and provide hints on secret passages and treasure, or strangers might join you to defeat difficult bosses. Often this strange ghostly community turns hostile. They invade to kill you and steal souls. Such is life…and death. Despite the occasional angst at being invaded at the worst possible time, this online mechanic reinforces the bonfire theme. Salvation is far away, and destruction nips at your heels–not that there are heels in the game–though your armor can sometimes get fabulous…


player invasion–multiple expletives to follow

This solitude of Dark Souls is welcoming at times, but the trials and tribulations of fellow players are never far off. Bloodstains depict how those who came before you died, and often at a long-awaited bonfire, you’ll see another lost soul rise and disappear down a trail.


The Price of Pepper-Spraying Protestors? $40K!

Man, you pepper-spray some college students and get $40K in worker’s comp? That’s…a good deal!

Fired campus cop who pepper-sprayed protesters gets $38K in workers’ comp claims (via Raw Story )
An appeals board has awarded a former campus police officer $38,055 in workers’ compensation after he was fired for the pepper-spraying of student protesters. Former police Lt. John Pike was awarded the settlement Oct. 16 from the University of California…




Dolphin-eating Theme Park: Bad idea?

Dear Town of Taiji, Japan:

Dolphins using sign language to say, “Let’s go to the discoteque! I’ve got my dancing flippers on!”

You were made famous by the documentary, The Cove. But a theme park? Maybe a bit too far.

You see, you have proposed a Dolphin theme park where people can play and swim with these majestic animals, and then sample their tasty flesh.

Now, critics will likely say that Koreans eat dog, which are sacred to Americans, who eat cows, which are sacred to Indians, and Wall Street bankers eat the souls of unborn (note, unverified but possibly true), which are sacred to Jesus.

Man amazed by how awesome Dolphins are, and thinking “Man, I could never eat that!”

But Dolphins are amazing–and you kill upwards of 20,000 dolphins/porpoises each year. These creatures can do back flips out of water. They have their own language, Dolphinese, which is the language of love in the marine world (if you know what I’m saying…). So please, abandon your theme park plans. Unlike most animals, they are self-conscious, have personalities, and memories! They have even been known to protect humans from sharks!

Boy learning how to kiss from Dolphin–adorable!

Now Taiji–don’t get me wrong. I’m a Japan fan through and through. But there are lots of cultural things that we don’t do nowadays. We don’t sacrifice virgins on the altar (that I know of). We let weatherpersons tell us slightly more accurately whether it will rain or snow (note, sacrifice weatherpersons when they ruin next beach day).

We don’t eat the brains of our adversaries to gain their strength in battle. And we shouldn’t eat dolphin.

Girl thanking Dolphin after being tutored in Algebra.

We humans so often feel very alone in this crazy world, and we need all the friends we can get. And mark my words–dolphins are friends. Number of movies where dolphins help humans? Many! How many dolphin horror movies are there?

One–The Day of the Dolphin, and apparently no one liked it–cause you know who turned the dolphins against humans? Us!